Aug. 3. 2018
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McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder

We all have days when our energy feels low. In fact, one of the common questions I get from clients is, “why am I always tired?”

The thing is, tiredness isn’t something you just have to deal with. While it is normal to feel sleepy sometimes, if it’s happening every day—even if you are getting good sleep—then it’s time to figure out what’s making you so fatigued. To help you pinpoint some causes, I’m talking about common issues that lead to tiredness. Plus, I discuss how to boost your energy, particularly with a few delicious recipes meant to put a little pep in your step.

Why Am I Always Tired? The Causes

1. Your blood sugar is all over the place

The reason you often hear you should eat complex carbohydrates (think whole grains), healthy fat and protein is because your body digests these foods more slowly. When you eat things like processed carbs (i.e. white bread and rice) or sugar-packed cakes and candies, it spikes your blood sugar levels. You might feel a “sugar rush” from these foods—aka a spike in your energy levels—but that just leads to a crash afterward. Eating more whole foods keeps your blood sugar levels balanced, so you sustain your energy levels throughout the day.

Some studies have also linked diabetes—a disease that affects blood sugar levels—to chronic fatigue, though the research finds that there could be other culprits to low energy than blood sugar itself (1)(2).

2. Mighty mitochondria

The big energy player in our cells is called mitochondria. Your body produces ATP, or the energy-rich molecule known as adenosine triphosphate, in the mitochondria by using oxygen to convert the energy from your food into the energy your cells can use. Because mitochondria are so strongly tied to cell energy, it’s no wonder any dysfunction in these powerhouses can also cause you to feel overly tired. One study actually ties the dysfunction of mitochondria to chronic fatigue syndrome (3).

3. Health conditions

Like diabetes, fatigue can be a symptom of many health problems, including liver and kidney disease, cancer, chronic inflammation, and anemia (or a deficiency of red blood cells). Being tired doesn’t necessarily mean that you have any of these conditions, but it may be a side effect.

Also, certain vitamin deficiencies can lead to fatigue, including a lack of iron and vitamin D. If you are experiencing serious sleepiness during the day, even if you get quality sleep, make sure you talk to a doctor. It’s easy to rule out anything serious, so you can figure out other ways to amp up your energy.

4. Not eating (or drinking) enough

Your body needs to take in energy in order for you to put out energy—and that means calories. If you’re skipping meals or limiting your food intake, you might find that you’re particularly sluggish. That’s likely because your body is fighting to stay awake, without having enough fuel to run on. Fruits and veggies, along with grains, proteins, and healthy fats will help keep your body moving (and thinking!) at its full potential by delivering the necessary nutrients to all your muscles, and your mind.

The same goes for not drinking. One study showed that mild dehydration could bring down your mood and your energy (4). So make sure you’re sipping throughout the day. (To help you drink more water, check out these water infusion recipes.)

5. Mental health conditions

It’s not just physical ailments that can hinder your liveliness during the day, but your mentality, too. Stress, anxiety, and depression can all make you feel lethargic and unmotivated to move. Science backs this up. One study links job and work-family conflict to physical, emotional, and emotional fatigue (5). Another says there’s an association between tiredness and psychiatric disorders (6).

How to Beat Tiredness and Boost Energy

First and foremost, setting a sleep schedule is vital to combating fatigue. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same hour in the morning (even on the weekends!) so you set your body’s circadian rhythm up for success. Of course, this isn’t always easy and it’s OK to have a poor night of rest every now and then but try your best to stick to specific timing.

As for during the day, reaching for a cup of coffee in the morning might give you a jolt of energy, but it won’t provide the sustained wakefulness you’re likely looking to achieve. Instead, make sure you’re reaching for healthy meals, focusing on a produce-heavy menu (check out some of my favorite energy-boosting meals below). Opting for that protein, carb, and fat combo meal, as I mentioned earlier, will help to keep your energy stable throughout the day. Don’t forget your water bottle either!

Also, exercise has been shown to increase those energy-producing mitochondria that keep your body’s cells working. There’s a ton of research out there on this particular topic, showing that exercise—high-intensity intervals in particular—can help with mitochondria maintenance, even as we age (7). The endorphins you’ll feel post-sweat should also give you a little more pep.

If you do have a physical or mental health condition that leads to tiredness, it’s important to control that underlying condition. When you do, the fatigue just might fade.

Energy-Enhancing Recipes

Whenever a client asks me “why am I always tired,” I tend to immediately think about some of the go-to recipes that keep me up and at ’em all day. While eating healthy will do your body good, it’ll also help keep your brain sharp and clear—so you’ll feel awake physically and mentally. Here are some of my favorite energy-enhancing snacks and meals:

Energy Almond Butter Balls
Nutrition Stripped Energy Mix
Spirulina Energy Globes
Acai Berry Bowl
Good Morning Green Citrus Smoothie
Hearty Vegetable Bowl

Why Am I Always Tired? The Bottom Line

Keep in mind sleep is the most important thing for keeping your energy up throughout the day—so, take that as your first step to feeling more lively. While it’s tough to fit in seven to eight hours every night, it really is important to your health. If you do get good zzz’s and you’ve talked to your doctor about any underlying conditions, your diet is also a good place to start making changes. I’m always here for you if you want to discuss your meals and easy ways to make healthy swaps. Check out my coaching services, and we can set up a time to talk.

Do you have any go-to ways to boost your energy? I want to hear them below. Share your best ways to beat fatigue using #nutritionstripped.

References
  1. Goedendorp MM, Tack CJ, Steggink E, Bloot L, Bazelmans E, Knoop H. (2013, August.) Chronic fatigue in type 1 diabetes: highly prevalent but not explained by hyperglycemia or glucose variability.
  2. Singh R, Kluding PM. Fatigue and related factors in people with type 2 diabetes.
  3. Sarah Myhill, Norman E. Booth, and John McLaren-Howard. (2009, January.) Chronic fatigue syndrome and mitochondrial dysfunction.
  4. Lawrence E. Armstrong Matthew S. Ganio Douglas J. Casa Elaine C. LeeBrendon P. McDermott Jennifer F. Klau Liliana Jimenez Laurent Le BellegoEmmanuel Chevillotte Harris R. Lieberman. (2011, December.) Mild Dehydration Affects Mood in Healthy Young Women.
  5. Ilies, Remus,Huth, Megan,Ryan, Ann Marie,Dimotakis, Nikolaos. (2015, November.) Explaining the links between workload, distress, and work–family conflict among school employees: Physical, cognitive, and emotional fatigue.
  6. Matthew M. Robinson, Surendra Dasari, Adam R. Konopka, Matthew L. Johnson, S. Manjunatha, Raul Ruiz Esponda, Rickey E. Carter, Ian R. Lanza, K. Sreekumaran Nair. (2017, March.) Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans.